LABEL PROFILE: HIDDEN SHOAL
During March 2007, Hidden Shoal's Cam Merton provided textura with an enlightening portrait of the Australian label's sensibility, roster, and releases.
Hidden Shoal Recordings was founded recently (early 2006) yet your roster (its web site currently lists seventeen artists) and releases have grown rapidly. What prompted the label's creation? Did you establish it in order to provide a venue for a wealth of under-recorded Perth talent to be heard? (One is tempted to think that the label had to be created in order to do justice to artistry that was not being adequately documented.) Was there a particular musical void that you believed needed to be filled?
Yep, you pretty much nailed it on the head there. We found ourselves around so much fantastic recorded music that we had been listening to and loving and almost forgetting that this stuff was not getting heard outside of our lounge rooms and those of a few other select people. It just hit me that this situation was wrong yet reversible. As with the start up of most indie labels the main players were in bands that also had work that was waiting to be released. We've all come from contemporary art backgrounds and we'd experienced the power of the collective in getting these kinds of projects off the ground so the notion of starting up a label felt kind of natural to us.
It's interesting you used the term “had to” in regards to setting this thing up as there was a real sense of responsibility that came over me with this thing. I just kept thinking that it's time to 'Publish or Die' (spiritually speaking!)–no excuses.
From there, the whole thing has flowered and as you mentioned we have seventeen artists from Australia, the U.S., Italy, Germany, and Belgium who have all released fantastic albums under the HSR name.
Who comprises the label's management team?
The core team comprises myself, Cam Merton, Malcolm Riddoch, and Stuart Medley. We've also been lucky enough to have the wonderful Miriam Lamey come on board as our US-based representative and team member.
Are you a purely digital music label or do you produce CDs and vinyl too?
Purely digital, although we have had some interest from a few distributors in the US which has prompted us to look at the prospect of physical release there.
The Hidden Shoal recordings I've heard (Sankt Otten's Wir koennen ja Freunde bleiben, Slow Dancing Society's The Sound of Lights When Dim, Wes Willenbring: Somewhere Someone Else) are all superb and deserving of wider recognition, and I'm presuming that others in your catalogue are equally strong. How do you deal with the challenge of increasing public awareness of the label to ensure that such high quality music gets heard?
Firstly, we do the basic regular things that any label would do in terms of pushing to get reviews, radio play, and other press. That gets you somewhere but generally nowhere near far enough. We have been constantly looking at new ways of promoting our artists' music online and to that end we have formed partnerships with music recommendations systems/sites, community networking sites where we are able to get our artists or their releases featured, podcasters, e-stores where we can get our releases featured, etc, etc. I spend at least half my day embedded in email, talking to people and trying to get these sorts of relationships happening so our catalogue has as many outlets as possible to reach out to the world.
Given that your artists encompass a broad stylistic range, how would you characterize the label's identity?
Hmm, that's hard to put into words. The label and its catalogue have a real heart for me that allows what may seem like disparate styles and approaches to music to sit together as one. I guess if you look at it from a practical viewpoint, our catalogue consists of music that we love and that we would want to listen to regardless of whether we release it or not. Our approach is a curatorial one, where we are not interested in presenting some sort of blanket homogeneity or corner a genre. We are looking at the label as a way to develop an engaging collection of music that comprises many shades yet works as a whole. It reflects our own musical tastes and I think it echoes a thinking listener's approach to music where you can move from experimental ambient work to epic indie rock within the space of five minutes.
Is a key part of the label's identity that its artists be Australia-based?
Not at all. In fact nearly all our recent signings have come from the US, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. We started with a purely Australian roster simply because we had this wonderful unreleased music around us from bands and artists we knew or at least knew of. Once the label got up and running and people heard this stuff, we started to get approaches from bands outside of Australia, all based on that initial catalogue and our approach to the label. Being a digital label allows us to transcend geography in search of music and artists that complement the label as a whole.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of your artists and the kind of material they're producing?
Wow, so hard to single artists out. Without trying to sound like a sycophant we love all of our releases. They wouldn't get a HSR logo on them if we didn't.
Well, you have covered three of them in textura so I'll leave Sankt Otten, Slow Dancing Society, and Wes Willenbring to you. The wonderful Italian outfit, Dilatazione has produced a gorgeous album, Too Emotional for Maths, full of winding, layered guitars and the wonderful drumming of Alessio Gioffredi (who also drums with Ulan Bator). The band has managed to take some of that intricate and knitted guitar work from the math rock movement and filled it with heart. I really do love this album. The single, “Solo in una strada affollata” gets almost daily airplay around the office here.
The EP, Lakes and Ponds, by US band The Hero Cycle is a brilliant five-tracker stuffed with some exultant indie rock tunes. The group manages to pull together elements from the larger, rockier end of shoegaze and marries with it with a wonderfully playful pop sensibility. It's that gentle balance between viscera and brains where pop hooks and songcraft walk hand in hand with a big layered sound. Great stuff.
The Australian one man ambient rock project My Majestic Star has produced a stunning debut album, Ideas Are The Answer which received a range of wonderful reviews and made a few top ten albums of 2006 lists. The album was then followed up by the equally impressive Fining EP released this year. Songs turn so gently as to make you unaware that you have been left somewhere far different from where you started. Structures are allowed to fall into themselves then pick up again with new binding and direction. The music manages to distil all that is good about post rock whilst throwing away the staid and formulaic bindings that so much generic post-rock seems to be weighed down by.
There is so much good music in the catalogue and real diversity as well, but hopefully that provides a small taste.
Proudest accomplishment to date?
Ahh, I can't pick one, honestly. There's so many great things that have happened and continue to happen. This will sound really corny, but I get most excited when I get to hear that magic demo and know instantly that this band is special. Then the day when we release the album, I get that same sense of excitement. Of course, the warm glow gained from reading a great review of one of our releases is nothing to shy away from either.
We just pre-released the album A Taste Of by the Belgian dream pop outfit Colour Kane. There is some truly gorgeous music on that one. Full of lush cascading guitars and sweet soaring vocals. The band supported Robin Guthrie during his Lumière shows in Belgium and Robin has produced the track “Seaside Dream” on A Taste Of.
We are almost ready to launch the licensing “arm” of the label where we seek to get tracks from the catalogue licensed for use within film, TV, etc. I think there's a lot of opportunity in this area as it's another way to get the music out into the world and heard, and of course it's another stream of potential income for the artists. So much of the HSR catalogue is ripe for working with the moving image and I am not just talking about the instrumental or ambient work either.
What are some of your favourite label(s) and is there a particular one you regard as a great model for your own label?
That would definitely be early 4AD. We talked about the sort of models we aspired to when we were planning the label and 4AD seemed to encapsulate a lot of what we were trying to do in terms of the sort of catalogue we wanted to build. 4AD was able to maintain an identity whilst having a reasonably varied catalogue. It somehow made sense to have The Pixies and The Cocteau Twins on the same label even though looking at it on paper made it seem like a mismatch. There seemed to be such a lovely curatorial approach to the label's output and that was of course down to Ivo Watts-Russell and the way he approached the label as a kind of meta band if you like. That was evident on his This Mortal Coil adventures where he made that “meta band” idea into a practical and singular project.
We are also huge fans of Vaughan Oliver and his work with various photographers on the 4AD covers. Even though we don't produce physical covers, we take our cover art very seriously and our designer and label partner Stuart Medley takes the same sort of curatorial role in terms of the cover art as we do with the catalogue. He's just recently started to work with local visual artist and photographer Sam Landels and their first collaboration produced the exquisite Colour Kane album cover art.